UW News

December 19, 2016

$5 million will expand UW-developed technology to help West Coast children and families

News and Information

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Technology developed at the University of Washington to improve service delivery in child welfare, foster care and homeless youth systems will soon be expanded to other states through $5 million in new funding.

The grant will allow Oliver — a social service management solution developed by Partners for Our Children, an organization in the UW School of Social Work — to be expanded to five communities in Washington, Oregon, and California. The funds include a $2.4 million grant from the Social Innovation Fund, a program of the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, plus $2.6 million in matching funds from the UW, with $2.4 million of that from Connie and Steve Ballmer, who provided funding to create Partners for Our Children in 2006.

“This was a very competitive process,” said Benjamin de Haan, executive director of Partners for Our Children. “We were extremely pleased to be selected.”

The Social Innovation Fund grant was awarded to Third Sector, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that works to channel government resources toward evidence-based initiatives in areas such as child welfare, homelessness and poverty. The organization is collaborating with Partners for Our Children to establish five “performance hubs” at research universities that will work with local government and providers to use Oliver to improve data collection and service delivery.

The universities will provide technical assistance, analyze data and evaluate the effectiveness of the technology platform in helping to meet clients’ needs. Partners for Our Children and Third Sector will put out a call for proposals for grantees in early 2017.

“This project will help communities create essential ecosystems to provide for effective and efficient service delivery to vulnerable groups that need consistent, high-quality attention,” said Caroline Whistler, president of Third Sector.

Oliver was created about three years ago by two UW students working at Partners for Our Children as a way of addressing the need for better data in the child welfare system. Some providers don’t even have computers, de Haan said, while others don’t collect data on a consistent basis. Oliver aims to fill that gap by providing software and apps that streamline internal work processes for child welfare providers and help generate data on service delivery and outcomes.

“These organizations have little resources, little technology and often no history for tracking performance methods,” he said. “This is a good opportunity for us and the university to give something very tangible back to the provider community.”

Through an integrated collection of 20 process workflows, the technology can track which services children and youth in child welfare, foster care and homeless systems receive, then compare service delivery performance results between providers to determine which approaches are the most efficient and effective. Oliver is currently being used by providers in Washington state to help coordinate court-ordered, supervised visits between children living in foster care and their biological parents.

Chart showing workflow process for tech solution Oliver

Oliver was designed to track which services children receive and compare results between providers.Partners for Our Children

State law requires that children removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect have a visit with a parent within seven days, but burdensome paperwork and ineffective protocols were stretching that out as long as 20 days in some cases, said Abraham Ray, Partners for Our Children’s director of technology.

The organization worked with providers to implement Oliver and reduced the wait time to less than 24 hours, he said, as well as cutting staff administrative time spent on visits by about 30 percent. In addition, “no-shows” — incidents of parents not showing up for visits — have been reduced by over 20 percent, thereby reducing the costs of visitation.

“These results have made an immediate impact for those children and families waiting to visit with their families,” Ray said.

In addition, several Washington drop-in centers for homeless youth are using Oliver to track clients’ needs, services delivered and outcomes. Youth decide what information can be shared between providers, Ray said, which prevents them from having to tell their personal stories multiple times and frees up staff time that would otherwise be spent on paperwork. Oliver is also being integrated into the state’s child welfare system to streamline the process for licensing foster parents and better match children with foster families, he said.

The new project aims both to build local capacity among providers and test Oliver to ensure that the technology is flexible enough to be scaled up regionally and even nationally. Partners for Our Children has invested about $8 million in Oliver so far, de Haan said, and expects to spend about $16 million in total over five years to build out the solution.

“It speeds up innovation for the state of Washington and our work if we can connect with some of these larger [child welfare] systems,” he said. “We are very excited to work with Third Sector on this project, because we see great potential for improving critical services to children and families. It’s a winner all the way around.”

For more information, contact de Haan at dehaanb@uw.edu or 206-221-3134, or Ray at aberay@uw.edu or 425-281-9847.